Poet Fatimah Asghar had one criterion for her first foray into screenwriting: none of the main characters in her project would be white. Asghar’s collaborator Sam Bailey took it one step further to suggest all of the supporting characters and extras not be white either. The glorious brownout of Asghar and Bailey’s web series Brown Girls is as much a reflection on friendship as it is a celebration of representation.
Set in Chicago, Brown Girls follows Leila and Patricia, twenty-something best friends stumbling through life and love. Leila is juggling being queer and Muslim while Patricia can’t quite figure out how to take the leap of faith toward her dream job or a relationship.
“When I was first starting to write this, I was thinking about how I don’t often see friendships between women of color of different racial backgrounds represented in film and TV,” Asghar says. “That’s where a lot of the intention of Brown Girls came from, as well as never seeing women of color that were allowed to be flawed characters but are still relatable or lovable. They aren’t the Olivia Popes or superheroes of the world–they’re just average girls that have dreams and are struggling and can’t seem to get their lives together.”
A priority in building the world of Brown Girls was to showcase diversity at multiple intersections without it being pedagogical.
“Can we make this world as brown as possible and not comment on it?” Bailey asked herself while developing Brown Girls with Asghar. “That was a way to make the point without making it so strongly, that this whole world is not through the lens and gaze of what’s considered the dominant culture.”
Brown Girls comes at a unique time with major networks investing in shows that showcase diverse and nuanced characters. Whether or not Brown Girls will make the leap to television remains to be determined. For the time being, Asghar and Bailey are content with extending the conversation around representation.
“I don’t think there is a show that is as interracially mixed out there right now. And so I feel there’s a hole that Brown Girls could fill,” Bailey says. “When Atlanta, Queen Sugar, and Insecure all came out, I remember being super overwhelmed. I was like, ‘this is what being a white person must feel like–you get to see so many different versions of yourself.’ And we get to add that narrative. We’re not trying to be the voice of young black and brown women. We’re just trying to add to the voices that are there because all of them are valid.”